While the famed "Midas touch" may be a mythical aspiration, there is nothing imaginary about the negative impact that careless handling and reckless touching can have on gold and other precious metals.
Selecting and purchasing gold coins is an important part of collecting, but investors today must also be aware of the best ways to physically handle coins and precious metals so they are completely protected and remain in pristine condition. Guarding the quality and craftsmanship of your coins is essential to ensuring that your collection is not only well-maintained, but continues to increase in value.
Why Gold Coins Should Be Handled With Care
The surface of gold coins is soft, delicate and susceptible to damage from even the lightest of touches – this can result in spots, hairline scratches, fine lines and an array of other blemishes that can adversely affect the coin's value. In fact, the higher the gold coin’s purity, the more malleable it is, which means to avoid gentle handling that can cause inadvertent damage to the coin.
Most seasoned collectors abide by the strict rule to avoid touching the coins at all costs, which can be achieved by only purchasing certified coins. These coins have been officially graded and authenticated by a third-party professional organization, such as the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) or the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC). Certified coins are always enclosed in a clear plastic case, preventing any damage and mitigating the need for handling at all. Investors who choose to own certified coins will always have peace of mind, as these transparent containers are made specifically for keeping the coins in pristine condition -- free of any spots, scratches or blemishes.
Most seasoned collectors live by the strict rule to only handle coins when necessary, but if you are even a casual hobbyist, at some point you will probably be required to hold and examine your coins more closely. By practicing and implementing a few basic rules for touching and handling gold, investors will have peace of mind…while ensuring that their prized collection remains beautiful and brilliant through the years.
So, whether you are a newbie coin collector or experienced professional with years of expertise, following these general guidelines will provide beneficial and helpful handling tips for keeping your coins clean, safe and in the best condition possible.
Staying Clean: Wash (and Dry) Your Hands
Although this concept may seem like common sense to most gold collectors, it is pertinent to thoroughly wash and dry your hands thoroughly before touching the coins with your bare hands. Fingerprints, oils and remnants of lotion can easily transfer onto the coins, even if your hands appear to be dirt-free. Using a few drops of hand sanitizer containing alcohol is also a viable option, as it absorbs the additional oils that could potentially harm the coins.
Preparing a Safe Work Environment
Overall, the safety of the coin is of utmost importance, and even accidentally dropping a coin on a table for a few seconds can sometimes cause major damage. Before handling any coins, it's ideal to create a soft, safe, well-lit workspace. Spreading a thick, lint-free cloth atop of a flat surface will prevent the coins from bouncing or rolling onto the floor if they happen to slip from your fingertips. Avoid rubbing the coin at all, as even a slightly rough cloth can leave smears and fine scratches, which may not instantly appear, but could show up later.
As an added protection, it's wise to invest in a professional felt-lined coin tray, especially if you plan to handle coins frequently.
Handling Coins Only by the Edges
A common industry rule, known to many pros as "coin collecting 101," recommends holding coins only by the sides and under no circumstances should you touch the face. It is one of the most basic (yet incredibly critical) suggestions that investors should follow when touching fragile gold coins, as it shows respect for the coin, as well as keeps it away from potential damage. In the world of collecting, it is considered taboo to touch the face of the coins, also referred to as the obverse (the front side, or "heads" ) and reverse (the rear side, or "tails"), as even touching the gold for a brief moment can actually harm the coin and cause fine lines.
Ensuring Proper Coin Storage
In addition to requiring the most careful handling, coins should be stored in a cool, dry environment and extreme temperatures should always be avoided. Excessive heat and moisture can be damaging to these fragile gold coins, so smart investors usually select an optimal storage place before they even start purchasing their collections.
At the very least, gold coins should be kept in a protective sleeve, and if they are purchased in a storage container, it’s best to leave them inside the protective case and not remove them at all. In addition, standard coin albums (also commonly referred to as "flip books") are a viable storage option for coins of lower value, but they are not always totally airtight and may not be the best solution for long-term protection. For selecting the best storage solution for high-value coins, be sure to purchase an air tight, hard plastic case that is free of the chemical PVC, which also poses a risk to these valuable coins.
Breathing Easy While Holding Coins
Mindful breathing is not only for that weekend yoga class…for collectors, it is for keeping your gold coins free and clear of a hazy film, too. When examining a coin, hold it at a safe distance from your face (and your breath) to prevent any spotting. Avoid exhaling onto the coin’s surface, as your breath can potentially cause permanent damage to these delicate coins. (On a somewhat related note, it’s never a good idea to use saliva to polish your coins. This is an "old school" practice that has been proven to be harmful to the coins time and again).
Taking Special Care When Handling Proof Coins
Created specifically for serious collectors, proof coins are special edition versions struck using a unique minting process. These gold coins were not minted for commercial use; they are extremely delicate and known for their beautiful details. They also often feature a shiny, mirror-like surface that while stunning, is unfortunately very susceptible to scratching. When planning to handle proof coins, collectors must take great care with the preparation process. For example, some experts encourage collectors to have their clean workspace set up and ready to go – with magnifying glass or microscope -- and only attempt to touch proof coins while wearing clean cotton gloves.